For all the changes Reservoir’s softball team has gone through since this time last year, including graduating more than half its starters from last spring’s region championship squad, one thing remains the same.
The Gators are built for the playoffs.
Riding its opportunistic offense and slick-fielding defense behind pitcher Kylee Gunkel, Reservoir (10-10) showcased its penchant for postseason softball again on Wednesday afternoon with a 3-2 road victory over Centennial in the 3A East region semifinals.
“The mentality of the regular season was that we were going to figure out, as a coaching staff and as a team, what was going to work best for us in the postseason. And it really does show that these girls are fighters, being able to take those losses we had early in the year and use them to make us better,” said Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold. “The way we are able to consistently find a way to win this time of year is a testament to the strength of the program.”
Reservoir, which was coming off a one-run win over Mt. Hebron in the quarterfinals, now advances to defend its region title against Chesapeake on Friday. The Cougars defeated Northeast 11-0 in their region semifinal game.
After going under .500 during the regular season, senior Desi Hatzakos — who went 2-3 with a RBI and a run scored against Centennial — said this year’s Gators’ team has found the winning formula at the perfect time.
“Everyone knows that Reservoir is a playoff team and we just know how to work together by the end of the season” she said. “Obviously the beginning of the season didn’t go as planned … but we knew what to fix and were able to prepare ourselves to make a run when it matters.”
Centennial (10-8), which certainly made Reservoir earn everything it got, got better as the game wore on Wednesday. After falling behind 3-0 through the first three innings, the Eagles shut the door defensively behind pitcher Jordan Hinz (5 strikeouts and no hits allowed after the fourth inning) and began rallying at the plate.
The Eagles scored runs in the third and seventh innings, while putting multiple runners in scoring position in three of the final four frames. In the bottom of the seventh, Centennial had the tying run on third base and the bases loaded with two outs.
But ultimately, Reservoir’s defense made the plays when it needed them. In that final inning, Gators’ shortstop Maddy Davis made the clinching putout on a slowly hit grounder that ended up being a bang-bang play at first base.
“We were one more hit away in three of the innings there at the end … softball is a dumb game sometimes. You can hit all game, but the one time you need one it just doesn’t come and that’s tough,” Centennial coach Katie Grimm said. “But top to bottom of the lineup, we put ourselves in position to have meaningful at bats and that’s all you can ask for. [Kylee] made good pitches for them and we just didn’t get that extra hit we needed.”
Gunkel ended up scattering seven hits and three walks, while striking out three, on her way to earning the victory.
After Reservoir scored twice in the first — on a passed ball and a RBI single from Paige Bright — and then added another run in the top of the third, Gunkel and the defense behind her went to work in order to make the lead stand.
“They trusted one another in the big moments,” Frisvold said. “We talk about letting your defense play and I think Kylee did just that. She made the pitches, gave the defense chances to make the outs and they delivered.
“We certainly kept it interesting, but we got the outs when we needed them.”
Centennial got its first run in the third inning on a RBI single from Sarah Phelps that scored Esther Kim. Then down to their last out in the seventh, the Eagles scored their second run on a bases loaded walk by Erin McGuire that scored Grace Bennett (2-3, double).
However, with the game hanging in the balance, the Gators got the final out they needed to keep their season alive.
Reservoir (10-10) — 3, Centennial (10-8) — 2 (3A East)
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Re………...201 000 0 3-7-1
C………….001 000 1 2-7-3
Howard (18-5) — 5, Dulaney — 2 (4A North)
Lindsey Smith delivered a grand slam home run in the bottom of the second inning, turning a one-run deficit into a three-run lead, and the host Lions never looked back on the way to the victory in the region semifinals.
Howard will play on the road against Sherwood, a 4-3 winner over Urbana in its semifinal game, for the region championship on Friday.
Samantha Hobert pitched the complete game against Dulaney, allowing just four hits and striking out two. Sophie Morton drove in the other run for Howard.
The Lions will attempt to repeat as region champions for only the second time in program history. The last time came in 2010 and 2011.
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D………….010 001 0 2-4-0
Ho………...040 010 x 5-7-2
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports